President's Comment on Budget 2016

In Vancouver, spring is in the air. We’re getting glimpses of cherry blossoms on trees and snow drops on the ground. In Victoria, spring means a new Throne Speech and provincial budget – and this picture is a little less rosy.

In the Ministry of Advanced Education, the budget has brought yet another year of flat operating grants and fewer funded student spaces. There are no measures to address the growing affordability crisis for students. There is nothing to support improved access to developmental programs like Adult Basic Education. At a time when the province is expecting thousands of refugees to take up residence in BC, there is no funding being allocated to domestic English language training. Less than six percent of the projected surplus would restore the $22 million cut last year from English as Additional Language programs at our public institutions.

For all the BC Liberals’ talk about “Skills for Jobs” and their prediction that nearly 80% of future jobs will require post-secondary education, neither the Throne Speech nor the budget indicate that our sector is a priority for this government.

Despite their rhetoric, this budget is one of smoke and mirrors. There’s a surplus of $377 million, but Finance Minister De Jong pulled $100 million out of the surplus to start a so-called “prosperity fund.” The Minister made sweeping statements about helping BC families with the cost of living but that isn’t how the budget plays out. He made a big deal about waiving the property transfer tax on new housing of under $750,000. Since it doesn’t apply to the sale of existing housing, it won’t benefit working families. And in any case, you won’t find a detached new house under $1.3 million in the Vancouver area! There’s a waiver of MSP premiums for all children, which sounds like great news. In fact, when you crunch the numbers, you’ll see that this change in MSP premiums actually increases revenue (by a stunning $77 million) by requiring couples to pay more.

This budget does nothing for working people. There’s no relief for renters or aspiring homeowners, just a promise to find out who’s buying houses. There’s no poverty reduction plan. There’s no plan for affordable child care. And in Advanced Education, there’s no commitment to support students or educators in our critical work as economic and social developers in our province.

Under the 2016 Budget, post-secondary funding just keeps falling behind; hardly the signal you would expect from a government allegedly concerned about skills shortages. After 15 years of the BC Liberals, real per-student operating grants, the most direct and substantial investment by the provincial treasury in post-secondary education, have been in steady decline.

With no real change to the operating grants, BC’s colleges and universities are still going to be looking for cost-saving measures through program rationalization or for alternative sources of revenue. This year, many institutions have found they can bypass the 2% tuition cap with no penalty from the Ministry, by charging ancillary fees that are squeezing students more than ever.

 As educators, we experience the challenges of funding shortfalls first hand every day. We know the frustration of trying to maintain the quality of our programs with fewer resources. We also know how incredibly difficult it is for our students and their families to pay ever-increasing tuition and other student fees, when they already struggle with the cost of housing and food. In our daily reality, it’s hard to see how this government is helping BC families at all.

But spring is in the air. We’re just over a year away from a provincial election. We can work together to call attention to the funding crisis in post-secondary education. Let’s sound the alarm on affordability and access for students across BC. Let’s make these issues defining ones in the 2017 election.

It’s time to invest in post-secondary education. Pledge your support here

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.